Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who
have died in our nation's service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings,
with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of "Memorial
Day." There is also evidence that organized women's groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of
the Civil War. A hymn published in 1867, "Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping" by Nella L. Sweet carried the dedica-
tion "To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead" (Source: Duke University's
Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920).
I would propose to you that it is not important who was the very first to celebrate "Memorial Day". What is important
ing together to honor those who gave their all.
What do we know about "Memorial Day?" Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John
May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National
Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all
of the northern states. It is now celebrated in almost every state on the last Monday of May.
In 1915, Moina Michael wrote a poem "In Flanders Fields," "We Cherish too, the Poppy Red… That grows on fields
She then conceived the idea to wear red poppies on "Memorial Day" in honor of those who died serving the nation
benefit servicemen in need. Later a Madam Guerin from France was visiting the United States and learned of this
new custom started by Ms. Michael. When she returned to France, she made artificial red poppies to raise money
for war orphaned children and widowed women. This tradition spread to other countries. In 1921, the Franco-
American Children's League sold poppies nationally to benefit war orphans of France and Belgium. The League dis-
banded a year later and Madam Guerin approached the VFW for help. Shortly before "Memorial Day" in 1922 the
VFW became the first veterans' organization to nationally sell poppies. Two years later their "Buddy" Poppy program
was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans. In 1948 the US Post Office honored Ms. Michael for her
role in founding the National Poppy movement by issuing a red 3 cent postage stamp with her likeness on it.
There are a few notable exceptions. Since the late 50's on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the 1,200 soldiers of
Cemetery. They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing.
Those who risked their lives on our behalf are often very clear about what matters most in their own lives, and they
tell it to those they love. Listen to these words written by Master Sergeant Kelly Hornbeck, of the Special Forces,
who was killed in action last January, south of Samarra. He wrote this to his parents back in Fort Worth, Texas: "I am
not afraid, and neither should either of you be -- For I trust in my God and my training, two powerful forces that can-
not be fully measured."
Although the burden of grief cannot not be easily done away with and the sadness over an unfinished life easily laid
and commitments that give a life its purpose. And the commitment of these lives was clear to all: They defended our
nation, they liberated the oppressed, they served the cause of peace. All Americans who have known the loss and
sadness of war, whether recently or long ago, can know this: The person they love and miss is honored and remem-
bered by the United States of America.
tFr. Nicholas V. Gamvas
Koinonia May & June 2014